Threads of History


It’s the 1900s. He had a pole hanging baskets of fruits on his shoulders. Up and down Prinsep Street he went, selling fruits in the tropical heat. Then he heard singing.

He stopped to listen.

The chorus of voices ascended above the ceilings and the walls of the building. A white man noticed him and came out to greet him. He saw the white man coming, and quickly grabbed his pole of fruits and dashed. But that was not how this ended.

Up and down Prinsep Street he went day after day. And the singing rose again. Voices erupted and spilled onto the street. The fruit hawker stopped again outside the building.

The white man came out again. The fruit hawker was just about to make a dash, but the white man called out to him in Hokkien. The fruit hawker stopped in his tracks. Come in, that white man said. He was probably a kind stately Reverend with a deep gurgling voice.

The fruit hawker followed him into the building.

That was what is today Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church. The Reverend might have been Cook. It was probably the Straits Chinese Church or the Malay Mission Chapel. The fruit hawker’s name was Chew.

Chew stepped into the church. He heard the Gospel preached to him, probably in Hokkien. He believed. And it was counted to him as righteousness.

Some time later, Chew returned to China to marry the woman who was betrothed to him. Together they returned. They would eventually have a daughter, Annie. Annie would later marry Peter Yap, father of my father-in-law.

Chew would later become a rich rice merchant. He would own the land in what is today in Serangoon. He owned the land from where Yio Chu Kang Chapel stands today to the row of shophouses near Tai Seng Christian Church. In 1927, he donated land to the establishment of Yio Chu Kang Gospel Hall. The church was built on that land.

During World War II, bombs were unleashed on that land. But the church was untouched. The houses which home my father-in-law’s mother were untouched. When the Japanese came to occupy the land, Chew exercised diplomacy and persuaded the Japanese soldiers to spare his family, and his clan living in that village, Chia Keng village. He gave the soldiers food and shelter. The captain established his quarters there and provided immunity. By this, the family and the church were spared the terrors of war.

Out of that family came Annie, my father-in-law’s mother. She would marry Peter Yap, a poor teacher in Nanyang Girls’ High School.

In 1921, Peter Yap’s parents landed in Singapore fresh off a boat. His mother was carrying a child, who would be Peter Yap. An uncle who was already in Singapore received them from their voyage, and within the first few days or weeks of their arrival, preached the Gospel to them. They believed. And it was counted to them as righteousness. Their son then came into this world. They named him Fa Chuan, that is, to proclaim widely, in belief and hope that this son would go far and wide to proclaim the Gospel they had come to hold dearly.

This son Peter Yap would later live up to his name and have an itinerant preaching ministry in Singapore and Malaysia. He would also be the translator for Billy Graham in his crusade here in Singapore. On those few evenings, thousands came to believe in the Gospel. A revival erupted in the Singapore Church in the 1970s as a result.

Peter Yap and Annie Chew would have five children, one of whom is Andrew Yap. He would marry Myrtle Sim. They would have three daughters. One of whom is Ethel Yap. In 2014, she married me.

The church on that land was Yio Chu Kang Gospel Hall. Come next year it would celebrate its 90th anniversary. Some folks from Gospel Hall’s Sunday School would later join Bethesda Bras Brasah, the mother church of the Brethren church in Singapore. That eventually led to the birth of Yio Chu Kang Chapel in 1954. Today I worship together with four hundred people in that church.

In this church, I came to hear and believe the Gospel. The Gospel of an unchanging living Christ. The same Christ whom the fruit hawker Chew heard about and believed in the 1900s from the white Reverend. The same Christ whom Peter Yap’s parents heard fresh off the boat in 1921. The same Christ whom Annie and Peter would believe in. The same Christ whom my father-in-law encountered. The same Christ whom my wife knows. The same Christ whom I call my King. The same Christ who is head of the church, the faith community, I find family in.

There are many stories of history which go untold. There are some stories which are told and retold. Tonight, I heard many stories.

I heard stories of war, poverty, industriousness, creativity, motherhood, camaraderie, ministry, family, faith, hope and love.

The stories all paint a picture. A picture of a person who stands behind, beneath, between, every story, every relationship, and every miracle.

That person is Jesus. He is the Christ of that Gospel.

The Christ who leaves traces of his fingerprints on the endless thread of history which binds generation to generation.

The Christ who is the same yesterday, today and forever.

The Christ who is alive and at work even at this moment, working his way in my heart as he is in all of ours.

The Christ who is faithful and surely, as he has said, he is with us until the end of the age.

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